2013 Nissan Pathfinder: Less Rugged, More Refined

It’s somewhat of an oxymoron when you alter the perception of your trailblazing SUV from rough, rugged and raw to sportier, sleeker and more refined. Though with changing consumer expectations and extensive demands from your daily transporter — such as fuel economy, safety and creature comforts — the task at hand is to be all things simultaneously to an appropriate number of your consumers. Nissan approached redefining their latest utility vehicle with thoroughness, carefully considered customer input and contemporary transportation technology for the overall convenience of commuting. The output comes in the form of the all-new 2013 Pathfinder.

It was rainy and windy at my home in Silver Spring, Maryland, just one day removed from the havoc caused by Hurricane Sandy. Our oldest and largest tree had fallen; leaves and branches blanketed the 1.5-acre property; and food and survival supplies were diminished. As a result of the tumult, Nissan’s 4th generation Pathfinder would find itself most welcome in my driveway. I would use its 5000 pound towing capacity to haul away a trailer full of 100-year old oak; its 4×4-i system to navigate through or over scattered debris on the roads; its 26 highway mpg since I’d be making multiple trips to and from the landfill; and lastly, its 7-passenger seating capacity to load up the family since they all had cabin fever. A Bose sound system and dual 7” 2nd row seat embedded screens will entertain. Heated seats for all, a heated steering wheel and dual panorama sunroofs will keep the cabin bright and cozy. Lastly, entry and exit is often problematic when there are 3rd row passengers. Sometimes you just want to say “wait here, I’ll be right back!” Not a problem with Nissan’s EZ FLEX seating with LATCH AND GLIDE. Introduced on the Infiniti JX, the configurable seat slides back and forth and tilts which creates enough room to jump in and out smoothly. It even operates with a child seat in place. These seats also fold flat for loading longer and bigger objects such as flat-screen TVs.

Back in 1991 during my junior year in high school, Gabe Williams was the first student at Eastern High to earn a Pathfinder from his generous parents. It was tough, extreme and fit his macho personality perfectly. On weekends we went camping, fishing and dirt bike riding. Then, the Pathfinder had body-on-frame construction, was rectangularly shaped, and instilled an acute anxiety to challenge any rough terrain with its “Hardbody” persona. Our contagious optimism to battle the elements was profound and Gabe’s 1st generation Pathfinder was the tool needed to administer the thrills. Today’s Pathfinder has reverted from its body-on-frame platform to unibody. Of course the Pathfinder is still suited for certain off-road conditions, but extreme off-roading is left up to the Xterra. Nissan said they studied what the Pathfinder consumer is actually looking for and wanted to deliver a vehicle with more interior room, more rigidity, less weight (minus 500 pounds), and increased fuel economy.

Like most evolutionary products the new Pathfinder’s styling has evolved to meet today’s consumer needs. And as it goes, sleek styling seems to dominate preferences. So the exterior has morphed from a stodgy frame with more angular lines to a silhouette with added curves. It takes quite a bit of getting used to. Think of a stretched Murano. However, Ford has taken this route with the Explorer and Jeep with their new Grand Cherokee. Inside, up-level packages such as the SL or Platinum additions replace the plethora of plastic surfaces in the base models with leather and faux wood trimming. Platinum also adds 20” aluminum alloy wheels, 8” navigation screen with Zagat Survey, streaming Bluetooth audio, a 13-speaker Bose audio system, and a 4-camera system — Around View Monitor — to help with parking in reverse and forward.

The cabin could offer a bit more comfort and convenience as Nissan continues to evolve the Pathfinder. For example, the bolsters on the seat bottom are too narrowly spaced as I felt like I was sitting on top of them instead of in-between them. Doors have no map pockets and the glove box lid falls on your legs when opened. You have to tuck them in to lay the lid down fully.

Power stems from Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6 engine with 260-horsepower and 240 lb.-ft. of torque and is mated to an Xtronic CVT transmission that uses a chain instead of a belt for durability and towing. Either FWD or AWD is available for the Pathfinder. If you have a 4WD vehicle, its driver-selectable rotary dial from the ALL-MODE 4×4-i system will allow you to switch between FWD and Auto or 4WD. In 4WD Lock it biases the torque split 50/50 front to rear. In Auto it operates as FWD until traction is needed for the rear. My Cayenne Red vehicle was outfitted with 235/65/R19 rims and Continental tires, which proved excellent when traversing up and down steep hills and trails. As well, all the typical safety assist systems are available such as Traction Control System and Vehicle Dynamic Control to straighten out the SUV when you begin losing directional control. It has a Hill Start Assist but does not have Hill Decent Control like most off-roaders do these days.

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is offered as an S, SV, SL, and Platinum with 2WD or 4WD available in each trim level. Pricing starts at $28,270 and continues to $40,770 with three options available: Platinum Premium Package ($2,300), SL Premium Package ($2,650), and Trailer Tow Package ($400). The ride was smooth with linear acceleration, the trail rated duties were respectable, and the technology was on par with industry standards. It’s less rugged, more refined and definitely a winner.

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